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USDA extending free meals for kids through end of the year if funding allows after criticism

USDA extending free meals for kids through end of the year if funding allows after criticism
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend free meals for kids through the end of this year, as long as funding allows, following criticism from educators and parents. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFederal judge strikes down Trump's cuts on food stamps for unemployed EU's 'farm to fork' demands could mean indigestion for US food exporters Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE announced Monday that the department will continue its Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, including flexibilities it has allowed during the coronavirus pandemic, into the fall. 

Perdue’s announcement indicated the meals would be served through the end of 2020 or “until available funding runs out.” 

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The programs usually are dedicated to providing meals to students during the summer months, but when the COVID-19 pandemic sparked school closures in March, the department started the programs early this year. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” Perdue said in a statement.

“This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually –  so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments,” he added. 

The coronavirus adjustments to the program that will continue include that the meals will be free, served outside of the usually required group settings and permitting parents and guardians to pick up meals without their children present. 

The department had planned to end these flexibilities by the end of September, meaning the meals would not be free and parents with immunocompromised children would need to show up with them to receive meals, The Washington Post reported. But parents and educators spoke out, prompting the department to announce it would continue as long as funding allowed. 

“While there have been some well-meaning people asking USDA to fund this through the entire 2020-2021 school year, we are obligated to not spend more than is appropriated by Congress,” the release states. 

About 30 million students in the U.S. eat school meals, with 22 million living in households where the income level allows them to receive free and reduced-price meals, the Post noted.